BAGHDAD — The ethnic and sectarian tensions that threaten to tear Iraq apart flared Wednesday as the prime minister accused the Kurdish self-rule region of harboring the Sunni militants who have overrun much of the country, and 50 bodies were discovered dumped in a village south of Baghdad.
It was not clear who the men were or why they were killed, but such grisly scenes were common during the darkest days of the Iraq War, and the deaths raised fears of another round of sectarian bloodletting. Many of the victims were bound, blindfolded and shot in the head.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's allegations, made in his weekly televised address, are likely to worsen Baghdad's already thorny relationship with the Kurds, whose fighters have been battling the insurgents for the past month.
The accusations also seem to dampen the prospect of reconciliation, which the United States, the U.N. and even Iraq's top Shiite cleric say is necessary to bridge the country's ethnic and sectarian divisions.
The militant offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremist group has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the last U.S. troops left the country in 2011.
The jihadis have been joined in their assault by other Sunni insurgents, feeding off of anger against the Shiite-led government. On the other side, Shiite militias have rallied around Maliki's government to fight off the insurgents.
In the far north, meanwhile, Iraq's Kurds have taken advantage of the mayhem to seize disputed territory and move closer to a dream of their own state.
The Kurds have said they only want to protect from the militants the zones they have entered, but many of the areas have significant Kurdish populations.
Last week, the president of the Kurdish area urged the region's lawmakers to move quickly on preparations for a referendum on independence.